For most travellers, the country of Lithuania probably doesn’t bring anything uniquely Lithuanian to mind, yet the most southern of the Baltic states does have at least one claim to fame: that the geographical centre of Europe is within its borders. The problem is, Lithuania is not alone in making this unique geographical fact its own. Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Hungary and fellow Baltic state Estonia all argue that the midpoint of the continent falls within their territories. The main reason for this wide and varied number of supposed continental centre points is due to what the calculators behind them considered to be the boundaries of Europe, a contested issue in itself. Some omitted the Greek Islands, the Azores and even Iceland to make their calculation.
So determined to be the locator of the most accurate and all encompassing geographical centre of Europe, Lithuania has not just one ‘official’ point marking the apparent spot, but two. At almost twenty kilometres apart however, I have a feeling that at least one of these points is not as accurate as it would like to be and is therefore not the true centre point after all. The inevitable question to be asked then is, which one?
The Museum of the Centre of Europe located in Europos Parkas, is around twenty kilometres north of Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius. Created in 1991, it is less a museum, more a huge open-air contemporary art exhibition. Around one hundred pieces of modern sculpture are spread across fifty-five hectares of tamed forestry. Amongst the collection, featuring pieces by such internationally renowned artists as Sol Le Witt and Dennis Oppenheim, is the official Guinness World Record holder of the world’s largest artwork of television sets, created by the museum’s founder Gintaras Karosas.
The collection and natural surroundings are absolutely delightful and arguably fewer places in and around Vilnius can offer such a beautiful and peaceful place to take a long, leisurely and cultured stroll around, nor indeed offer access to a Guinness World Record holder. But, for someone specifically seeking the geographical centre of Europe, I have to admit I was left a little disappointed by the museum and park.
The official Europos Parkas flyer states that the goal of the museum is “to give an artistic significance to the geographical centre of the European continent”. Impressive the collection maybe however, it does seem to be just an eclectic collection of pieces with no obvious connection to the geographical point it is apparently giving significance to. None of the pieces seem to represent the mid-point or celebrate the mid-point or even refer to the mid-point… apart from one.
Although very symbolic, I was not convinced that this understated pyramid stood on the exact geographical point I was seeking. Where were all the national European flags, the bunting, the huge informative bilingual signs to bellow the fact that this was the actual spot? So underwhelming was the piece and surrounding area in relation to what it supposedly represented, I didn’t even notice it as I headed for the nearby education centre to help me locate it. A park curator pointed me back over to it and confirmed that the pyramid did indeed stand on the actual geographical point. “I know this may sound like a silly question”, I started to ask her, “but is there another centre of Europe somewhere near here?” “No, no!” she said, turning away from me as though to avoid looking me in the eye. “That is the true centre. Sometimes, we have to move it by a metre or two when the point has to be recalculated, but that is definitely it”. At this point, a telephone suddenly rang in another room and she looked evidently relieved to hear it. She darted out of the room and I didn’t see her again.
Earlier in the day, I had found photographs online of Lithuania’s continental centre point, but the images looked very different to Karosas’s monument, hence why I had asked the curator of the possibility of another centre point somewhere else. Luckily, my sat-nav came to the rescue and on typing in “centre of Europe”, it came up with a location that was nineteen kilometres away from where I presently stood. Hell-bent at this stage to physically stand on any point claiming to be the geographical centre just to dispel my disappointment at not being able to do so at Europos Parkas, I followed the sat-nav’s suggested route north and arrived twenty minutes later… at a golf club.
The Europos Centro Golfo Klubas is around twenty-five kilometres north of central Vilnius. Just before reaching the club house, a sign directs centre point seekers left up a tree-lined lane to reveal this:
This was certainly a much grander sculpture to represent the centre point of Europe than the pyramid at Europos Parkas, but I soon found out that this large granite column was only symbolic of the centre of Europe and didn’t stand on the actual point after all. The exact point calculated in 1989 by the French National Geographic Institute as 54 degrees, 54 minutes latitude and 25 degrees, 19 minutes longitude was located a few hundred metres away from the column and was marked by this:
However, even though the French National Geographic Institute’s calculation is believed to be the most encompassing and most accurate to date, it strangely doesn’t take into consideration Malta. If it did – and surely it should – that would move the point a further few hundred metres south-west from where the boulder is now. So, even this marker may not be the actual centre point of Europe either.
Yet, as stated on the huge informative bilingual signs next to the array of European flags nearby, it is in fact almost impossible to pinpoint the exact geographical point so specifically. The precision of measuring the European boundaries required to calculate the geographical point is susceptible to a certain margin of error and so in considering this degree of inaccuracy, the square kilometre around the boulder has been marked out by the Lithuanian Geographical Society as the area containing the centre point of Europe as it stands today (it is worth noting that this square kilometre does not include Europos Parkas within it).
Although this means that standing on the boulder may not have achieved my goal to stand on the geographical centre of Europe after all, it is still possible that whilst walking around the golf course in search of the boulder and its surrounds, I did indeed stand on, or at least walked across this unique location point. Just where exactly in that square kilometre I may have achieved this, is anyone’s guess.
As well as trying to locate the true centre of Europe north of Vilnius, it is also almost impossible to reach either Europos Parkas or the Europos Centros Golf Club by public transport.
The address for Europos Parkas is Joneikiškiu k, LT-15148. It is reasonably well sign-posted after the Santariškès roundabout along Žaliuju Ežery street, leading drivers deep into the surrounding forest. The number 66 bus for Skirgiskes stops at the park entrance on route. This bus can be picked up at Zalgirio (found on the Santariškès roundabout) which in turn can be reached by catching bus G1 or bus 53 from central Vilnius. Both routes are not terribly regular and both journeys are long, so I would only recommend this method of transport if a car or taxi is really not an option. The Europos Parkas website offers more details and bus timetables here.
Europos Parkas is open daily from 10am until sunset, and full price entrance is (2017) eight Euros with discounts for students and senior citizens. There is a large, free car park by the entrance to the park. No vehicles are allowed within the park. There are guided tours in English, Lithuanian and Russian throughout the day which I am sure are well worth going on (alas, I didn’t have time) to fully appreciate the work Gintaras Karosas and his team are trying to create here. More information about the tours, the collection and the park’s legacy – but strangely, not much about the geographical centre of Europe itself – can be found on its website here.
The Europos Centros Golf Club is located close to the village of Purnuškès. The club can be reached easily by car along the A14 north of Vilnius, but no form of public transport stops anywhere nearby, so the only alternative form of transport to get here from Vilnius is by taxi. The course literally sits alongside the A14 and the turnoff for the club is clearly signposted. What isn’t so clear is the signpost for the geographical centre point hidden behind a small hill. The sign is small and easily missed along the lane leading down to the club house. If missed, there is no opportunity to turn around until one reaches the club house around one kilometre further on down the lane. Even if the sign and turnoff are spotted in good time, cars can not actually turn off and go any further towards the centre point from here but have to park up in the nearby layby which can only accommodate a handful of vehicles at a time. There is plenty of parking space next to the club house but the kilometre walk back to the layby and path leading up to the boulder and crowned column is across boggy land, unless one walks back along the lane.
There is no entrance fee to see this geographical point and access to it is available day and night. The official website for the golf club barely mentions the geographical point on its grounds, but I include a link to it here merely for address purposes and curiosity.
In their insistence that they both possess the true centre point of Europe, the Europos Parkas and Europos Centros (via its information centre on the site) offer visitors a certificate proclaiming that the bearer has visited the geographical centre of Europe. Unfortunately, I didn’t claim mine from either location. Oh well.
The Slovakia-Hungary-Austria tripoint: the exact geographical point that looks more like the middle of nowhere